Cannabis Lobbyist: John Boehner screwed up my secret stash (of strategy ideas).
In any case, the details of the case, which was filed this spring but concerns events before and immediately after Boehner’s appearance as a post-retirement advocate for marijuana legalization, shed new light on the origins of one of the most unlikely conversions in recent political history , a development that helped transform the former Speaker’s image from a dour legislation blocker to a swashbuckling Uncle John.
Pericola’s lawsuit begins in January 2018, when Donald Trump’s then Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the Obama administration’s policy of not interfering in states that have relaxed their marijuana laws. The move angered an industry that had been growing as states across the country ended their bans. According to Pericola, now 46, he came up with the idea for something called The 10 Campaign, named after the 10th Amendment, which says states have all the powers the constitution doesn’t give the federal government.
The narrative presented in Pericola’s lawsuit states that The 10 Campaign developed a “novel proprietary plan for marijuana reform” and eventually met with an old friend who was Boehner’s chief of staff. Though Boehner had been a drug warrior during his tenure, Pericola thought his cigar-smoking, Central American angularity would make him a great spokesperson for the cause. The friend, Pericola claims, agreed to share some of the information from Campaign 10 with the former spokesman.
More meetings are said to have followed with Squire Patton Boggs, which is where Boehner ended up after leaving Congress. Pericola, 46, claims key members of the company signed non-disclosure agreements before seeing some of his strategic initiatives. He said he also advised her before meeting with a private equity firm about funding a legalization initiative.
Weeks later, Boehner announced that he would be joining the advisory board of cannabis company Acreage Holdings, stating that his views on marijuana had evolved, and drawing national media attention. According to Pericola, his talking points in these media reports were stolen from The 10 Campaign proposals. His complaint states that he continued to communicate and make plans with Boehner’s company until a few months later when they abruptly informed him that Boehner would not be participating in the 10-year campaign after all. The following year he became Honorary Chairman of the National Cannabis Roundtable, another organization.
“Why should we pay you when we can do it ourselves,” claims Pericola’s complaint, which was shared with him. “The defendants abused the plaintiffs’ detailed property and legislative plan and were unfairly enriched by plagiarizing that plan in order to establish themselves as pre-eminent thought leaders in the cannabis space,” the lawsuit concludes.
A representative for Boehner and Squire declined to comment on pending litigation, but their attorneys filed a lengthy response last month that boiled down to: What is this guy smoking?
For one, they say, “The plaintiffs’ alleged ideas for marijuana reform are not ‘trade secrets.'” that legal cannabis brings billions into the economy; that marijuana may have therapeutic effects; that the Constitution gives states the power to make their own laws – are not exactly revolutionary findings.
To underscore this point, her file contains a library of footnotes from media outlets — from National Review and the Washington Times to Vox and Huffpost — arguing some of the points she feels Pericola wants copyrighted .
In addition, Pericola found no actual misrepresentation by the law firm or the former spokesman. Boehner never agreed to head Pericola’s organization; They never had an agreement about money or anything else. What was really going on, she replied, is that he was soliciting business and hoping to land a big name, and after exploring the idea for a while it didn’t work. The allegations of improper conduct, they say, “are based on the notion that squire Patton Boggs and spokesman Boehner somehow compromised the plaintiffs’ expectations of the job with Squire Patton Boggs and Speaker Boehner‘, something that is ridiculous.
Boehner and Squire want the case dismissed. A DC judge will rule on the request sometime next month.
And Pericola’s side, meanwhile, wants the court to let her escape a VIP’s dismissive rebuff. “We believe there are several factual issues that will come to light through the investigative process and testimonies from key individuals who will have a lot to explain,” said former US Congressman Bruce Braley, the lobbyist’s attorney. “Hopefully they’ll have to explain their behavior under oath.”
Ironically, the lawsuit — based on the idea that a small fish is being cheated out of a big payday — comes at a time when, as my colleagues Hailey Fuchs and Natalie Fertig reported earlier this year, the cannabis industry has actually backed down a bit on the lobbying front , which has been riddled with internal divisions that followed the outburst of enthusiasm at the start of the Biden administration and the current Congress.
Although parts of the country appear to be overrun with cannabis stores, the industry is not yet a Washington heavyweight. That’s partly because while Americans spend a lot of money on weed, it’s not clear if anyone is making a lot of money selling it to them. That, in turn, is largely a function of what Washington can control: federal ban. Because it’s classified as an illegal drug, businessmen don’t have access to parts of the banking system or even some basic tax benefits (such as always being able to write off expenses), restrictions that dampen profits. Many big companies are content not to make much money now, assuming that getting into the game will establish them as big players once legalization happens and the faucets are open.
Braley says the injustice in this particular case stems from the wide-open environment at the time of Pericola’s discussions with Squire Patton Boggs. “A lot of parts were moving fast. It was a real growth opportunity for someone like Jamie who had bipartisan connections,” says Braley, who first met Pericola during his 2007-2015 tenure, when he represented Iowa in Congress. “It was a unique moment in history, but that’s why it’s so tragic for Jamie.”
Weed’s odd legal and political status, I suspect, also has a lot to do with the lawsuit against Boehner. It’s hard to imagine taking place in the Washington-influenced operations of a mature, fully legal industry. The newness and ongoing edginess of cannabis means it’s a sector where ambitious unknowns like Pericola and political titans like Boehner are more likely to clash — either as collaborators or rivals — than in an industry like auto, say.
Likewise, in a more familiar business, a fundamental disagreement over what a trade secret is would be much less likely. If Pericola had tried unsuccessfully to get Boehner on a sweater industry advocacy group, he would have had a hard time taking offense when the former announcer later spoke on television about how the garments can keep you warm on a chilly fall day.
But maybe all the chatter about strategic innovation is just dodging. Tasked with making a case for legalizing cannabis, most reasonably intelligent people would—John Boehner, a veteran lobbyist from Washington, a grade 11 student. In the end, fancy strategic thinking may be sidelined compared to the more important question of who one knows. In this case, a former House speaker and a legendary Beltway company will always win.
Not that either of them wanted to argue that point in court.